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Challah

This braided loaf for the Sabbath and festivals is common among Ash-kenazic, Italian, and "true" Sephardic communities. Only the Middle Eastern, North African, and Persian Jews do not have a braided bread for Sabbath and festivals.
Challahs are often braided in a complex way, but a simple 3 strand braid is used here. A specially big challah shaped with several braids of different sizes is baked for a wedding, bar mitzvah, or other celebration; it is sugar-glazed and decorated with sprinkles. A round challah, made from a strip of dough wound into a snail shape, is traditional on the New Year to symbolize the continuing cycle of the years. Normally, 2 challah are baked at once and put on the Friday night table, covered with a cloth until the meal is about to start.
When baking challah containing more than 3 pounds of flour, break off a tiny piece of dough about the size of a walnut. Recite a blessing and burn the piece (formerly it was thrown into the fire). This is to symbolize the portion of bread that was given to the priests when the Temple stood in Jerusalem.

ingredients

makes 2 loaves
1 envelope active dry yeast or 1/2 cake compressed yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups warm water
8 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
1 egg, at room temperature
1 egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water
4 tablespoons poppyseeds or sesame seeds

method

1. In a small bowl, combine the yeast with the sugar and 1/2 cup water.

2. Cover with plastic and leave in a warm place until well-risen, about 20 minutes.

3. Sift the flour and salt into a warmed bowl. Make a well in the center and break the egg into it.

4. Add the yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating the liquid into the flour.

5. Gradually add enough remaining warm water to make a stiff dough. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead until it is smooth and elastic, and it doesn't stick to your hands, about 10 minutes. Put dough in a warmed, greased bowl. Cover it with plastic, and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

6. Punch down the dough and divide into 6 balls. Roll the balls between your hands into long strips of equal length and about 1 inch wide. Braid 3 strips together and place on greased cookie sheet. Wrap the ends neatly underneath the loaf. Repeat with the remaining 3 strips to make another loaf. Cover the loaves with a kitchen towel and leave them in a warm place to rise for about 45 minutes. (Alternatively, put them in large plastic bags and leave them in the refrigerator overnight. Then let them rise the next day.)

7. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

8. Brush the loaves with the beaten egg-and-water mixture and sprinkle with the seeds.

9. Bake loaves for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool on a rack.

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